A Forensic DNA Scientist using the Applied Biosystems® 7500 Real-Time PCR System
The Cayman Islands Health Services Authority’s (HSA’s) Laboratory, in partnership with the Public Health and Forensics Department, is now among an elite group of regional laboratories to be internationally accredited with the full capabilities to test for viral diseases that may pose a threat to public health. With the introduction of this facilitative process, the waiting time for confirmation of mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya can be significantly reduced. The only other regional territories with this level of capabilities are Jamaica and Trinidad.
While noting a reduction in wait time for the confirmation of samples when the laboratory is utilised, Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Samuel Williams Rodriquez advised that samples will still be sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). “CARPHA is the regional public health laboratory of a surveillance network to which authorised Caribbean countries are obliged,” he stated.
The improvements in capabilities of the lab were made possible by the acquisition of new technology – Applied Biosystems® 7500 Real-Time PCR System and training of the laboratory staff. The PCR System allows the HSA Lab to conduct local testing, authorised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for Zika Virus, Dengue Virus and Chikungunya Virus in a single test; all of which previously were sent to the CARPHA laboratory in Trinidad for testing and confirmation.
Medical Officer of Health, Dr Samuel Williams said authorisation by the CDC for local testing is significant as it further enhances the capabilities of the HSA to not only detect in real time certain viruses, but provide timely intervention in the management of patients and enhances our public health surveillance and response capabilities.
Dr Williams, while commending the partnership with CARPHA and the tremendous assistance provided to the Cayman Islands over the years, highlighted the challenges faced with receiving timely results. The regional lab, in many instances created a three to five weeks waiting period for results, given its demanding role and the volume of work being handled from all the English-speaking Caribbean countries sending samples to it for confirmatory testing.
“This presented a challenge for clinicians in the delivery of patient care and created emotional anxieties for patients and families,” said Dr Williams.
The CDC notified the HSA of its support, recently noting the exceptional performance of the Authority in all testing measures. It’s statement to the HSA read, “CDC is pleased to inform you that the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority, Public Health laboratory has successfully completed the Trioplex Real-time RT-PCR verification panel with a score of 100% correct, indicating that the assay is performing as expected in your laboratory.”
Dr Williams emphasised that the equipment testing capabilities goes beyond Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya Viruses. “The equipment can also test for almost any other viruses that could pose a threat to public health, which is an important advancement of our capabilities given the emerging and re-emergence of mosquito borne viruses and other diseases in the region,” he noted.